‘Peru is our country but the UK is our home. Our life is here’
By Luis Eduardo Perez Murcia
People migrate for several reasons. While some move in the search for safety following experiences of conflict and violence, others move in the search for economic betterment or academic opportunities. Lucho’s migratory experience challenges binary frameworks that tend to encapsulate migrants as either voluntary or forced. ‘I left Peru because God asked me to go to the UK’. That was what Lucho said at the British Embassy in Peru when his visa was rejected. Lucho recalls that he was unable to demonstrate to the Embassy that he had the financial resources to travel and stay in the UK without depending on social benefits. His conviction that God wanted to him being in the UK, however, was evidence enough to get the visa. ‘I was in shock. I did not consider my visa being rejected. I was just shouting in the middle of the Embassy ‘I need to go to the UK. That is the God’s will’ and suddenly a miracle happened. An employee at the UK Embassy just told me, calm down please, [you know the British are always polite]. Then, he just said ‘if your God wants you to go to the UK, I cannot be an obstacle to his will’. Lucho was granted a student visa for 6 months but has been living in the UK for more than ten years. Lucho, his Peruvian partner and their children are now British citizens.
But who is Lucho? Why does his migratory experience matter when researching ideas of home? To understand this we need to move backwards in his life experience. Lucho introduces himself as a Peruvian migrant with a difficult childhood whose life experience has been shaped by the will of God. Being just a 9-year-old boy, Lucho had to learn that the wealthy family he was living with was not his ‘real’ family. ‘I just wanted to kill myself’. From one day to another he found himself moving from a comfortable and familiar house where he felt very much at home, to a precarious shelter where his blood-related family was living. ‘It was such a dramatic change. I did not only lose the comfort of the house but the sense of being at home. My family was no longer my family and I found myself living in very harsh material and emotional conditions. I felt living with strangers’.
Following this traumatic experience, Lucho found himself with a shelter but spiritually homeless. Luckily, he stressed, ‘I met God. God saved my life. It was a new beginning’. Lucho started to study the Bible and found his purpose in life. He was inspired by the life experience of Jesus. ‘Jesus wanted to live with any comfort. In the struggle we can find our spiritual strength’. Lucho wanted to experience first-hand how life without any material comfort is. He wanted to give spiritual support to those who lived in the very remote areas of the Peruvian Andes. Lucho found himself living in the most precarious material conditions with little access to food and not access at all to health services. He only left the Andes when his health was considerably deteriorated.
Lucho was happy he was supporting those in need but was not sure he had already found his real life purpose. Since Lucho started studying the Bible, he was particularly interested in supporting Muslims to embrace Christianity. He recalled his main ambition was travelling to the Middle East but never found ways to achieve that dream while living in Peru. ‘I was just waiting the signal, and the signal suddenly appeared’, he said. A British woman he met back in Peru told him ‘you don’t need to go to the Middle East to help Muslims to embrace Christianity, there are thousand in the UK’. So Lucho found himself planning his first journey to London and soon persuading the British Embassy that ‘[his] place in the world was the UK’.
Life in London was harder than expected. He was alone and everything was so unfamiliar. He struggled to find affordable accommodation and his multiple jobs did not allow him time to make any progress in his language skills. What was worst, Lucho recalled, he could not engage with the Muslim community in the UK. He started to be unsure about having understood God’s signals when a fellow member of his church in the UK invited him to spend few days in Bradford, Birmingham, and Manchester. It was Manchester the city which cut his eye. Lucho was astonished how a very small city reunites more than 100 nationalities and thought ‘Manchester could be my place’. He went back to London and before his visa expired back to Peru. ‘Part of me stayed in the UK. While in Peru I was more convinced than ever that God wanted me to stay in Manchester’. So Lucho started to find his way back to the UK. This time Lucho was more familiar with the student visa rules and submitted an application not just for him but for his wife.
The Peruvian couple and their daughter started a new life in London. He was tirelessly working as cleaner and despite the many financial difficulties so committed to find their place in the UK. He recalled ‘London was overwhelmingly expensive, we were just surviving. We struggled to pay rent and buy food’. Life in London was not what they expected and his partner found herself so far away from home. She recalls ‘we saved every penny we could to call my mother. I just put all the coins in the telephone and say hello. After several months I just could hear her voice back saying hello. That was a deeply sad moment. I felt miles away from home’.
Lucho was sure his place in the world was the UK but no sure where about. He contacted the members of his church in the UK and had the opportunity to make short visits with his family to the same three places: Bradford, Birmingham, and Manchester. The church in Bradford and Birmingham offered to him and his family a place to live and the opportunity to be the pastor of the church. Lucho was just expecting a similar offer from Manchester but it did not happen. During the journey back to London his wife was so enthusiastic about a life in either Bradford or Birmingham. ‘It was a very cold and rainy day in Manchester and my wife did not like the city at all’. She wanted to move to either Bradford or Birmingham but I had the feeling that Manchester was the right place. ‘Miraculously, we got an offer in Manchester and we moved here. We were just following God’s will. Now, this is our place, this is our home’.
Waiting patiently for the God’s signals, Lucho and his family have embraced the British culture and citizenship. ‘Peru is our country but the UK is our home. Our life is here’. Then, he went on to say ‘it does not mean that we will be living in Manchester forever. Jesus was himself a migrant so we do not want to root our home anywhere. Only God knows where will be next’.
I see Lucho and his family so socially, culturally and spiritually embedded in Manchester. Despite financial difficulties they have been able to buy a house and Lucho is devoting his time to what he wanted the most: providing spiritual support to Muslims who want to embrace Christianity. Working with refugees and asylum seekers in Manchester [some of them have fled their countries because they changed their faith] gives so much meaning to his life. ‘We wanted to work with those in desperate need. Refugees have lost everything. They have not home. So we want to make our home their home. All of them are welcome to our place. Our aim is to help them to find a home. By reading and studying the Bible together, we aspire to help them to feel at home’.